The Art of Living Christianly
It’s not unusual for Christians to get all worked up over things that aren’t really that big a deal. I remember the furor over The Last Temptation of Christ – which was actually a pretty decent book but a terrible movie. I remember thinking distinctly that if Christians hadn’t made such a fuss the movie would have just petered out on its own – and quickly. All raising such a ruckus did was prolong the inevitable. I honestly think people went to see that movie who wouldn’t have if there hadn’t been protests and picket lines at the movie theatre.
Did Christians learn their lesson? Nope. Anybody remember the hue and cry a few years ago over The Da Vinci Code? It was going to be the end of faith. It was going to lead our children astray. Churches would close. Western civilization would unravel. Christians would once again be thrown to the lions if this movie became a blockbuster hit.
I saw The Da Vinci Code the night it opened. I had a vested interest. I had written a book about the heretical worldview of Dan Brown, the author of the novel. I had written about and spoken about the movie for nearly two years before the movie came out, so I knew I had to see the film in order to respond to it with any kind of integrity.
So, I bought my ticket and lined up with lots of other folks. The theatre was at about 80 percent capacity. I was surprised how many people brought their kids with them. There’s stuff in the movie I certainly wouldn’t have wanted my children to see.
To be honest, I didn’t think the movie was very good. It was really long, and it felt like it ended three times. It just kept going and going and going. Ron Howard softened it a lot, and that made the story weaker than it should have been. But that’s just my opinion.
It wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t very good, either.
That weekend I had a conversation with some folks who actually went out and protested. They made signs about how The Da Vinci Code crucified Christ all over again. They handed out tracts to anyone who came close and shouted at people who stayed far away. I don’t think they deterred anyone from seeing the movie – it made more than $77 million in its opening weekend.
And it got me scratching my head over what a Christian response to something like that movie ought to look like. Most of the people who I spoke with suggested what amounts to a “religious” response. But few of those people suggested anything distinctively Christian.
See, a Christian is someone who has made a commitment to following Jesus, to imitating him in his thoughts and values and actions. So, when we ask what a Christian response to The Da Vinci Code should look like, we’re really asking WWJDTDVC: What Would Jesus Do With The Da Vinci Code?
Maybe it’s just me, but I have a hard time imagining Jesus picketing or being so casual with the language of crucifixion. I have a hard time imagining him handing out tracts or shouting at people from a distance. Those tactics seem too mean-spirited and impersonal for what I know of Jesus’ character and personality.
Sure, Jesus turned over tables and chased people with a whip once, but he is also the same guy who, while he was hanging on his cross, looked out at the very people who has just finished flogging him and were now killing him by the most excruciating means imaginable and asked that they be forgiven because, after all, they didn’t realize what they were doing.
Let’s back up a little and talk about what it means to read or watch or listen or converse Christianly. What I mean is that Christians (in my opinion) ought to have a different perspective from the rest of the world when we are reading or watching or listening or conversing. We could start by answering the question: What is the goal of life for a Christian?
My friend Ken Boa says that the goal of the Christian life is to "become progressively conformed to the image of Christ". He goes on to say that in order to do this "we must learn to love God completely, others compassionately, and ourselves correctly". Doing this brings glory to God.
Variouswriters, speakers, and churches have expressed this in different words. They’ve talked about the inward, outward, and upward focus of Christianity. They’ve talked about growing in intimacy with God, community with other Christians, and influence with those outside of the Christian faith. They’ve used five Gs or five Ms or different shapes and colors. It all comes down to the same thing: Love God and Love People.
So, if the goal for Christians is to learn how to better appreciate, appropriate, and reciprocate love – to be better lovers of God and others – then why do we read anything at all? Why do we read the Bible? Why do we read devotional materials? Why do we listen to sermons, watch television shows and movies, or have conversations with others?
Why not take a vow of silence and move to a cave in the wilderness until Jesus returns?
My theory is that we do these things, to various degrees, not just because we’ve become like Jesus and are behaving like he did but we do these things in order to become like him.
Not to learn more about him – though that is important, too. Certainly not to check the box and make ourselves look spiritual. We read our Bibles and devotional materials, we listen to sermons and Christian music in order to become more like Jesus. In other words, all these things are a means to an end. The end is Christlikeness.
At least that’s how it’s supposed to work.
But it’s not just Christian materials or things found in your local Christian bookstore that help make us more like Jesus. In fact, I could say that some of what you’ll find there might actually be counterproductive if you’re not careful.
It is also possible for you to read the newspaper, watch CNN, go to the movies, and listen to talk radio in a way that helps you become more like Jesus.
Certainly, there are times when we just want to check out, put our brains in park, and watch Bugs Bunny thwart the best efforts of Elmer Fudd. Sometimes mindless spectacle is just what the doctor ordered.
But there are important books to be read, important music to hear, and important movies to watch. There are funny jokes to be told, but there are also important conversations to be had.
And there must be a way to read, a way to watch, and a way to listen that is unique to those who have signed up to follow and become transformed from within into the likeness of Jesus. There must be.